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Floyd’s Upma with Crispy Kale and Stewed Tomatoes

July 29, 2011

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This recipe is my tribute to Floyd Cardoz, Top Chef Master, who elevated the ‘umble Upma and won the competition.  Throughout this last season of Top Chef Master, Floyd’s creations were among the top.  What impressed me the most about him was the fact that in the finale he was bold enough to present the most humble of Indian dishes, Upma and Sabudana khichdi.  The upma he made was nothing like I’d ever had before and I’ve been wanting to try it.  For the uninitiated, Upma is a popular breakfast or “tiffin” item in Tamil Nadu, in South India.  Literally, it means “salted flour” (Uppu = Salt; Ma or Maavu = Flour) and is usually made with semolina, water, ginger and green chili, tempered with mustard seeds and lentils fried in a bit of melted butter (ghee).  All kids growing up in TamilNadu eat it with sugar, and as you grow up, you enjoy it with coconut chutney or sambar (a stew with lentils, vegetables and spices).  I served it with stewed tomatoes spiced with fenugreek and crispy kale. Here’s the recipe:

What You Need

For the Upma

  1. Semolina – 1 Cup
  2. Ginger – 1/2 inch piece
  3. Green Chili – 1
  4. Low fat coconut milk – 1 Can (2 cups)
  5. Water – 1 Cup
  6. Salt to taste
  7. Ghee – 1 tsp
  8. Oil – 2 Tbsp
  9. Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  10. Urad Dal – 1 tsp

For the Stewed Tomatoes

  1. Onion – 1/2
  2. Tomatoes – 4
  3. Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  4. Fenugreek powder – 1/2 tsp
  5. Green chili – 1
  6. Chile Powder – 1/2 tsp
  7. Salt to taste
  8. Water, if needed
  9. Oil – 1 Tbsp
  10. Mustard Seeds – 1/2 tsp
  11. Cumin – 1/2 tsp

For the Crispy Kale

  1. Kale – 4 sprigs
  2. Cumin powder – 1 tsp
  3. Salt and pepper to taste
  4. Oil – 1/2 Tbsp

How its done

The steps for the preparation of this meal have in mind speed to table – given I have limited time, I can usually spend only an hour to cook dinner.

  1. Pre-heat your oven at the Roast setting to 400 degrees.
  2. Remove the washed and dried kale leaves from the stems, roll and cut into thin chiffonades.  Add oil, cumin powder, salt and pepper and massage with your hand for two minutes. Let rest till your oven comes up to the desired temperature – about 15 minutes; Then pop in the oven for 15 minutes, mixing once or twice.
  3. Once the kale is in the oven, start on the tomato stew. Chop the onion, tomatoes and green chile, as well as the mince the ginger and chile for the Upma.  Heat oil in saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds. Once fragrant, add the onions and saute till they are transluscent. Now, add the turmeric, chile and fenugreek powder and saute for a minute or so.  Add the tomatoes, chile powder, salt and pepper and let cook, stirring occasionally.  You can add water as needed (tomatoes cooked in their own juices taste delicous). Let stew for 20 minutes.
  4. The kale should be crispy by now. Take it out of the oven.
  5. Now turn your attention to the Upma. Heat a non-stick pan, add the ghee and let melt.  Then add the semolina flour and roast, stirring periodically till a nutty smell emanates.  The semolina will change color ever so slightly.  Remove from heat.  Return the emptypan to the heat and add the oil. Once hot, add the mustard seeds, and when they start popping add the urad dal till toasted and golden brown. Now add the minced ginger and chile and saute a minute.  Then add the coconut milk and water. The idea is to infuse the coconut milk with the flavors of the ginger and chile.  As this comes to a boil, reduce heat and slowly introduce the roasted semolina to the pan, stirring continuously as you add the semolina.  This prevents lumps.  Mix well – the semolina will absorb all the liquid and become creamy. Keep stirring.  Once its thickens and starts coming off the sides of the pan, cover for a minute or so and cook. Then turn off the heat. 
  6. The Tomato stew should be done by now and should be removed from the heat as well.  Let the meal rest for a few minutes before serving.

This meal is yummy served warm or at room temperature. The creamy upma with the tangy and spicy tomato stew topped with the crispy kale hits the spot!!

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